Chocolate, whisky and bramble tart with bramble ripple ice cream

As a dessert for Burns Night, I wanted to avoid the obvious traditional options. Much as I love cranachan made with raspberries, it is out of season. I enjoyed the local favourite of caragheen pudding at last year’s Burns supper but this year I was looking for something, well, a bit more luxurious.

I opted for a chocolate tart, incorporating the darkest of dark chocolate (81%), a dram and to my mind that definitively Scottish wild fruit that I have adored for all of my life – brambles. Some of my freezer stock of precious brambles from last autumn’s harvest was included in the tart and was also made into a coulis, swirled through vanilla ice cream to form a bramble ripple.

Brambles ready for collecting last autumn

Brambles ready for collecting last autumn

Although I nod to the traditional by including whisky in the tart, I must admit I am not a whisky lover. Even the finest malts, notably those from the islands (Islay in particular) have the whiff of TCP about them.  I am told if I persevere, I too will enjoy them one day.  Olives are often cited as an example.  During my PhD, my whisky connoisseur supervisor would arrive from Oxford and together with my other Edinburgh Uni supervisor,  we would head out with our research group of an evening to their favourite hostelry, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society members only premises in Queen Street, Edinburgh. There was much discussion about peatiness, tobacco, petrol and however else one choses to describe drinking TCP.  I was the Philistine at the bar requesting a gin and tonic.

Feeling the burn, post Burns

Yes, the duo of dyspepsia did as predicted and in truth, we could not face our lovely dessert after the haggis on Burns night – it containing yet more pastry (bit of an oversight there).

I was in danger of lethargy after haggis-eating and knowing I had proposed a 10km run, and despite the deteriorating weather, I decided to bite the bullet and get out there.  I had just walked the dogs and considered although there was a bit of a breeze, the weather window was good enough.  I elected to run around the picturesque island of Grimsay, a few miles south. The west end of the island acts as a stepping stone for the causeways that link North Uist and Benbecula. Circumnavigation of the island is a convenient 10 km.

View of Eaval from grimsay on a nice day

View of Eaval from Grimsay on a nice day

It was raining by the time I got out of the car and I could see, as is typical of these islands, that within a few minutes the situation would deteriorate quickly. Weather fronts were building to the south and banks of cloud were rolling towards me.  Nonetheless, I opted to run round the island south to north to take the worst of the weather along the exposed southern single track road first.  There were two observations that suddenly struck me about Grimsay.  I have driven but not ran around it before and it is a bit hillier than I recall.  Secondly, the south road is indeed very exposed to the elements.  I spent the next 6 km running into a pretty gusty headwind and needle-like rain with the occasional side gust that knocked me into the verge.

Once I got just over the half way mark, I got a tremendous tail wind as I turned north and the rain battered off my back, no longer in my face. Occasional gusts almost knocked me off my feet, but after feeling the burn initially, things got easier and I made it back to the car not too much over my predicted time.

Round the whole route, I only saw 2 people, both dressed in waterproofs, rushing out and hurriedly taking in washing, cowering in the squawl.  I was only passed by 5 or 6 cars, none which I recognised.  However, no doubt they had a good look and identified me as ‘That woman who is married to (we are not married) the violin-maker’ (as I have been referred to since my other half’s vocation is much more interesting than my own somewhat cryptic occupation) and questioned ‘What on earth is she doing running round here in this weather?’ Good to give people something to talk about other than the weather, at least!

Having recovered back at home, I could say that I unequivocally deserved a slice of chocolate tart with ice cream – and to watch a fun film – ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists’, another gem from Aardman Animation. It is a silly sea-faring yarn, of not too competent pirates featuring a parrot that is in fact a dodo and a rather scheming Charles Darwin.  Plenty of pithy one-liners but it is easy to miss a lot of content first time round. I won’t need any encouragement to watch it again, very good fun and a change from our usual film choices.

Chocolate, whisky and bramble tart

A nod to the traditional, containing a dram, with added richness and silkiness. The ganache for this tart is sublimely super-smooth and rich.  Thank you to Michel Roux for the basis of this recipe. It is based on his chocolate and raspberry tart.

Pastry is pate sucree as used for passionfruit and orange tart.  I also elected to coat the base in melted chocolate again.  The brambles were moist from being soaked in whisky and also having been frozen, so I wanted to safeguard the pastry from sogginess.

The ice cream was vanilla, the same recipe used to accompany said passionfruit and orange tart, except this time, I made bramble coulis to swirl through it.

Chocolate tart with brambles


200g brambles

50 ml whisky of your choice

For the ganache:

200ml whipping cream

200g dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids

25g liquid glucose

50g butter, cubed into small pieces


  • Soak the brambles in the whisky for a couple of hours.
  • Make pate sucree as per outlined in my previous post, coating the pastry case with melted chocolate to seal it.
  • Strain the brambles from the whisky and arrange on the tart base.
  • Prepare the ganache: bring the cream to the boil, take it off the heat, stir in the chocolate until smooth using a balloon whisk, add the liquid glucose, then the butter, a few cubes at a time.  The glucose adds to the smoothness, as does the butter and which also gives the tart sheen.
  • Pour the ganache into the tart case and over the fruit and allow to cool for a couple of hours.
  • Put in the fridge and take out half hour or so before serving.
  • Cut the pieces with a warmed knife to get a nice clean cut through the silky-smooth ganache.  Serve with the ice cream.

Chocolate tartChocolate tart whole

Bramble ripple ice cream

Using the previous recipe for vanilla ice cream, make a bramble coulis and swirl this through the ice cream once it is churned by your ice cream maker.  Fold it in at the end of churning if you are making the ice cream by hand.

Bramble coulis

  • Make a stock syrup by boiling 150g caster sugar and 120 ml water together for 3 minutes.
  • Take 50 ml of the stock syrup and blitz it in a food processor together with 150g of brambles.  Add any leftover whisky-flavoured juice from the brambles added to the coulis.
  • Sieve and stir through the ice cream.

Bramble ripple ice cream

And let again the final word go to Burns:

Let other poets raise a fracas
“Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ drucken Bacchus,
An’ crabbit names an’stories wrack us,
An’ grate our lug:
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or jug.

O thou, my muse! guid auld Scotch drink!
Whether thro’ wimplin worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream owre the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an’ wink,
To sing thy name!

Robert Burns – Scotch Drink, 1785

Chocolate tart and ice cream

Burns Night 2013 – Haggis and A’That

“But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed;
Or, like the snow-fall in the river,
A moment white, then melts forever.”

Robert Burns  –  Tam O’Shanter, 1791

No self-respecting lowland Scot, even those without fervent patriotic zeal such as myself, can let Burns Night, 25 January, pass without a celebration of our national bard.  Of course, Burns is a towering cultural icon and a defining figure of Scottish identity who is celebrated not just in Scotland but also among the Scottish Diaspora worldwide.

A celebration on Burns birthday of course involves haggis and all the trimmings.  Given that this post is subject to relevant but significant cultural and poetic digression, and I am supposed to be writing a food-centric blog,  please feel free cut to the chase of the recipe for Haggis en croute below.  The dessert of chocolate, bramble and whisky tart with bramble ripple ice cream will follow in the next post.

Contributions of the bard

Despite an early death aged 37, Burns produced a large and consistent output of work of over 600 poems and songs.  He was rather sentimentally called the ‘Heaven-taught ploughman’ as knowledge of his work gained acclaim, notably in Edinburgh during The Scottish Enlightenment.

More’s the pity he was perhaps misunderstood as it is not for the sentimental works that Burns should best be remembered but for his capacity to write with spontaneity, humour and sincerity across a large diversity of subjects . These included inequalities of class and gender, poverty, patriotism, republicanism and occasionally his commentary on the ways of the Scottish Kirk and Calvinism, which were so powerful and influential at that time.

“While Europe’s eye is fix’d on mighty things,
The fate of Empires and the fall of Kings;
While quacks of State must each produce his plan,
And even children lisp the Rights of Man;
Amid this mighty fuss just let me mention,
The Rights of Woman merit some attention.”

Robert Burns – The Rights of Women, 1792

A lifetime of Burns

Despite enjoying thought-provoking poetry,  I am not prone to the poetic and leave literary flourishes to others more eloquent in that respect than me. Still, Burns for me endures as one of the few poets whose works I still pick up and read on occasion. Unlike music, which still resonates with me as powerfully as it did when I was an adolescent, my voracity for poetry has dissipated.

I now rarely read my preferred more contemporary Scottish poets;  Norman MacCaig, William MacIllvany and Edwin Morgan. I no longer ponder on great works by Ginsberg, Hart Crane, Walt Whitman or even Raymond Carver and all I admire of his ‘dirty realism’. I somewhat circumspectly will not postulate as to why this is that case, but it has as much to with time as inclination – and space in my brain.

As a lowland Scot, I don’t think I am particularly unusual in the fact that Burns poetry and song has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.  As a child, we sung his songs at school, read his poems regularly.  ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was not confined to Hogmanay, but sung to signify the end of many a celebration. As time has moved along, and I became involved in playing traditional music, rarely would a song session take place without the rendition of a Burns song and no instrumental gathering would see an end without a tune to which one of his songs was composed.

My own favourite song and indeed one of Burns most venerated must be  “Is There for Honest Poverty“, perhaps better known as “A Man’s a Man for A’ That“, certain to have been seditious in its day (and hence was first published anonymously) is an expression of egalitarian ideas of society.  Sheena Wellington fittingly sung this liberalist anthem at the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and stole to the show from the politicians.

 Is There for Honest Poverty (A Man’s A Man For A’ That), (1795)

Is there for honesty poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave – we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a’ that?
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man’s a man for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that,
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that,
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A price can mak a belted knight,
A marquise, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s aboon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that,
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

Of course, Burns is also full of satire, humour and he wrote plenty songs about the virtues (or otherwise)  of imbibing whisky and carousing. One thing I have noticed and that does make me smile about Burns is his apparent penchant for peppering his prose with numerous descriptive references to vomit, often in very different contexts. In ‘A Winter Night’, Burns chronicles the impact of a winter storm on exposed wildlife (st. 2: bocked = vomit):

When biting Boreas, fell and doure,
Sharp shivers thro’ the leafless bow’r;
When Phoebus gies a short-liv’d glow’r,
         Far south the lift,
Dim-dark’ning thro’ the flaky show’r,
         Or whirling drift:

Ae night the storm the steeples rocked,
Poor Labour sweet in sleep was locked,
While burns, wi’ snawy wreeths upchoked,
         Wild-eddying swirl,
Or thro’ the mining outlet bocked,
         Down headlong hurl.

There is another such reference in the most celebratory poem for Burns Night ‘Address to a Haggis‘: ‘Or fricassee wad mak her spew’. Aside from Burns making me think of the many ways to describe vomit in the Scot’s vernacular, other thought-provoking poems and songs from his works are worthy of a mention.

My highlights include the satirical ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’, an attack on the hypocrisy of the Calvinist Kirk based on the true story of a Kirk elder Willie Fisher of Mauchline, Ayrshire. The song ‘Ca the Yowes to the Knowes’  lends itself nicely to accompaniment and creative musical arrangements for fiddle and cello. No Burns Night would be complete without ‘Tam O’Shanter’, Burns only example of narrative poetry filled with pathos, humour, horror and eloquence in equal measure.

There is one final song that is perhaps the most pertinent, given the time of year (i.e. the looming UK tax deadline)  and was coincidentally the first Burns song I learned in entirety when I was a child, ‘The Deil’s Awa wi’ th’ Exciseman’. Burns was employed as a Gauger (exciseman) at the end of his short life, a profession the poem may indicate he was not entirely at ease with.

(Reference: The Canongate Burns – The Complete Works and Poems of Robert Burns).

A final word on Burns in Scots culture.  I was listening to Radio Scotland this morning and therein some vox pops commenting on plans for celebrating Burns Night.  The words haggis, whisky, fun and party came up each time, yet of 8 or so interviewees, only one person identified the evening with the work of Burns.  On reflection, maybe I should consider myself as having a bit more cultural or patriotic zeal than I credit myself with – for better or worse….

To address the issue of Haggis

Over the years, I have attended many weird and wonderful Burns nights.  Worthy of note was that we enjoyed with flatmates of The Man Named Sous when he studied at The Newark School of Violin Making.  A verse each of ‘Address to a Haggis’ was recited by us two Scots and other of various nationalities from countries including Iceland, France, the US, Italy and England.  We all struggled with the verses, most less so with the veggie haggis and hardly any of us at all with the whisky and music that followed.

Last year, there was a Burns Night dinner in our village hall, which was an interesting mix of cultures of Gaelic and Scots, with plenty Gaelic song, and Highland bagpipe tunes – even our local MSP, a Scot’s scholar himself recited Tam O’Shanter. Although, for me personally, reciting ‘Address to a Haggis’ in Gaelic was a bit incongruous.  I imagine it must be like a native Gaelic speaker hearing Sorley MacLean in English, or reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez in anything but Spanish, if it is your first language. Nuances of the language are lost in translation.

This year, with the weather foul, we are not planning an excursion to the hall, but are having our own alternative Burns night.  I must admit, I love haggis, but when it comes to delivery, each Burns night is pretty much a carbon copy of the last – a pile of haggis, a pile of neeps and a pile of mashed tatties.  Not that I am suggesting a shift too far away from the traditional is required – just a bit of a twist.

Haggis en croute

I admit I did not make my own haggis.  A proper haggis is made of sheep plucks (lungs, liver and heart – quite difficult to acquire here), oatmeal, fat, onion, salt and spices, all minced and mixed together and contained in a sheep’s stomach, ready for boiling. I noticed in The Guardian this week Nigel Slater admitted that despite a love of haggis, he has not made and does not intend to make his own.  I can feel better about purchasing mine then!

The haggis was boiled and prepared en croute, first being rolled in Parma ham to prevent any fat leaching out into the pastry and making it soggy.  Now, haggis with its spiciness and fattiness can be a bit indigestion inducing, so I thought I would ramp up the experience two-fold by adding that friend of dyspepsia – puff pastry. The haggis was formed into a sausage shape and rolled much like a beef Wellington.

Instead of plain and simple neeps accompaniment was neeps, parsnips and carrots mashed together with horseradish and garlic.  The traditional mash with a bit of parsley was included.

Haggis Ingredients

1 top quality haggis (traditional or veggie – both work)

a sheet of puff pastry

4 slices of Parma ham

a packet of Rennies/Gaviscon 🙂

Oven temperature 180C (fan)

Haggis en croute


  • Boil the haggis for the alloted time, about 40 minutes for a medium haggis.
  • Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.  Remove from the skin/stomach and form into a sausage shape.
  • Roll out the puff pastry, place 4 slices of parma ham along it and place the haggis on top.
  • Roll the pastry and ham around the haggis as you would for a beef Wellington.
  • Seal the pastry with egg wash and place the edge underneath, tuck the ends under.
  • Decorate appropriately (we chose a thistle), egg wash and place in the oven for 40 minutes.  Slice and serve with mash and veg.

haggis cut

Enjoy wi’ a wee dram until ye are fu’ tae burstin’. Slàinte mhah, as they say round these parts and let Burns hae the last word….

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
 Gie her a Haggis

Roberts Burns – Address to a Haggis, 1786

haggis served